Hot Docs 2004 - UPDATE #6
Death in Gaza
Directed by James Miller
UNITED KINGDOM/79 MINUTES
It goes without saying that Death in Gaza is often very difficult to watch, as we're informed right at the beginning that director and cameraman James Miller died during its filming. Miller, along with reporter Saira Shah, was in Israel investigating the effects of the war on children, when he was shot without provocation by an Israeli squadron. The end credits inform us that Miller was killed before he could complete his interviews, and as a result, the film does have an unfinished feeling to it. Likewise, Shah - who presumably took over for Miller after his death - never quite makes up her mind in terms of what she should be focusing on: Miller's legacy or the impact the fighting has on Palestinian children. However, after initially stumbling a bit, Death in Gaza settles down and becomes the film that Miller undoubtedly envisioned. We're introduced to several children living within Israel's borders, and it's hard not to be touched by their plight. This is particularly true of one boy who is used as a spy by paramilitary soldiers, primarily because nobody would suspect a child of being involved in terrorist activities. It's pretty compelling stuff, but pales in comparison to the footage of Miller's death. It's a riveting sequence that concludes the film on an appropriately grim note, and it's impossible not to feel a certain amount of sadness when the inevitable moment comes.
The President Versus David Hicks
Directed by Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean
Though the idea behind The President Versus David Hicks is clearly an important one, the film just doesn't have enough to say to warrant 80 minutes worth of screen time. David Hicks is an Australian who, at some point in the last few years, fell in with the Taliban, and was summarily arrested by the United States following 9/11. Ever since, he's been held at the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba without access to his family or even a lawyer. Filmmakers Curtis Levy and Bentley Dean, obviously unable to interview Hicks himself, rely on his letters (read via voice-over) and interviews with family and friends to paint a clear picture of what he's all about. And that's the inherent problem with the movie. Yes, it's terrible that he's being held in a tiny cage and there isn't a trial in his foreseeable future...but Hicks did join the Taliban, a religious organization whose tenets aren't exactly teeming with notions of equality and fair play (they treat women like property, for example). As a result, it's near impossible to feel any kind of emotion for Hicks; we feel badly for his father, but that's about the extent of it. Fortunately, David's Father becomes the film's focus in its second half, with the filmmakers following him on a journey to Pakistan and its surrounding area to see for himself what David's life was like before he was captured. And while this portion of the movie eventually becomes tedious, it's surely better than the first half - which consists almost entirely of David's letters being read by the narrator. As a 15-minute piece on 60 Minutes, The President Versus David Hicks would've been far more effective - though the movie will undoubtedly have more of an effect on viewers closer to the so-called "war on terror".